Is Vietnam about to restock?

Related tags Bird flu Avian influenza Influenza

Vietnam is seeking to import between 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of
corn for feed as it moves to restock poultry flocks hit by the
outbreak of bird flu earlier this year, even though the FAO has
warned the country not to resume poultry farming too quickly,
writes Anthony Fletcher.

According to the Vietnamese ministry of trade, there is a possibility that import tariffs on corn purchase may be waved, opening the door to grain exporters from Australia, Europe and the US.

The move is supported by the Vietnam Husbandry Feed Association, which represents 138 feed processors in the country. It has warned of a possible rise in feed prices of up to 1.5 per cent, with processors looking to offset losses caused by bird flu.

However, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that countries affected by the deadly avian influenza virus H5N1 should not restock their flocks too quickly to avoid the disease flaring up again. The FAO says that before restocking, countries must prove the absence of virus circulation by virus research, serological surveys and the use of non-vaccinated susceptible chickens (so-called sentinels) on infected sites to test if they become infected.

In addition, the FAO has called on the countries to apply intensive disease surveillance to ensure potential new infections are discovered immediately. Aside from the health aspect, there are fears that quick restocking could further undermine public confidence in poultry products.

European consumers have been especially jittery since the issue of bird flu began to dominate the news agenda a few months ago. Officials have been keen to stress that an EU-wide six-month ban on the import of all southeast Asian poultry is currently in place, and that the ban will remain in force until categorical proof that the disease has been eradicated.

"In the battle against the disease, there are definitely some improvements. But we fear that the virus may continue to circulate in the environment even without an outbreak or any clinical signs in animals,"​ said Joseph Domenech, chief of the animal health service. "Appropriate precautionary measures have to be put in place to be absolutely sure that infected zones are free from infection and will remain free,"​ he added.

In total, Asia has around 40 per cent of the world's poultry population and accounts for 25 per cent of world trade in poultry. But the avian bird flu epidemic decimated poultry industries in the region, especially in Vietnam and Thailand.

Vietnam, where an estimated 38 million poultry died, is expected to declare the virus eradicated late this month. But earlier this week, the FAO said that the country was not yet clear of the virus and should not rush to replenish its flocks or resume poultry trade.

Thailand, whose poultry export business annually tops $1 billion, has been forced to cull over 25 million chickens. Like Vietnam, the country is obviously desperate to restore its poultry industry. But not everyone is confident that Thai assurances that the country remains free from the virus can be trusted - the government denied the existence of the virus for weeks.

Related topics Food safety

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